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Why the Pirates theme disappeared in 1998?


21 replies to this topic  – Started by Captain Fortune , Mar 21 2012 05:23 PM

#1 Captain Fortune

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Posted 21 March 2012 - 05:23 PM

I guess you probably talked about that subject in this forum, but I didn't find any thread.  :pir-cry_sad:

Anyway, let's deal with the biggest question: WHY?

I remember that january 1998, where I was a child, and watched the new catalog and didn't see anything about Pirates. I was VERY disappointed, and I could'nt believe how that was possible. Now it's funny to remember those old times hahaha, but I was really pissed off.

Which were the reasons lead the Lego Group to remove the Pirates Theme? As the Great Lego Book (1999) says, Pirates was the most successful line of products, so what happened? And why they disappeared so suddenly, having only 2 years old the 1996 sets, knowing that the normal cycle were 3 years? And why we had an eternal wait to see them again, 11 years (2009)?

I know, we've got so many questions here. I have some answers in mind, but I'm really interested in yours. What do you think?

Sorry for the mistakes, English is not my native language.

Edited by Captain Fortune, 21 March 2012 - 05:25 PM.


#2 Mister Phes

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Posted 22 March 2012 - 07:13 AM

According to the LEGO Group's cusomter service it was because they wanted to explore other themes...

But there must be more to it than that...


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#3 Duck

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Posted 22 March 2012 - 04:23 PM

View PostMister Phes, on 22 March 2012 - 07:13 AM, said:

According to the LEGO Group's cusomter service it was because they wanted to explore other themes...

I suppose that if the pirates theme was outselling other themes, they might have felt that by dropping it for a while people would be forced to spend their money on other products - but if a theme is definetly selling well... why risk losing products by dropping it? Even if they'd just kept it as the same wave for a few years while boosting other themes?

I would say that they were perhaps running out of places to go with it - but surely they could have just created new pirates or tried a new "enemy" faction (or recycled one). Castle has been going all these years with various incarnations - although admittedly LOTR will see an end to that one for the forseable future unfortunately.

I think the most likely explanation is that TLC may, when saying that pirates was the most popular theme, have meant that as a whole the theme was the most popular over the years - not necessarily the last wave with the spaniards however?

#4 Cpt. Dan

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Posted 23 March 2012 - 01:05 AM

View PostDuck, on 22 March 2012 - 04:23 PM, said:

I suppose that if the pirates theme was outselling other themes, they might have felt that by dropping it for a while people would be forced to spend their money on other products - but if a theme is definetly selling well... why risk losing products by dropping it? Even if they'd just kept it as the same wave for a few years while boosting other themes?

I would say that they were perhaps running out of places to go with it - but surely they could have just created new pirates or tried a new "enemy" faction (or recycled one). Castle has been going all these years with various incarnations - although admittedly LOTR will see an end to that one for the forseable future unfortunately.

I think the most likely explanation is that TLC may, when saying that pirates was the most popular theme, have meant that as a whole the theme was the most popular over the years - not necessarily the last wave with the spaniards however?

I actually think the Spaniard line was the weakest part of the series. Islanders were interesting, but limited as well.

The sets from the early 90's were by far the best with the line waning out in 96 97 98.

It had to be tough to not recycle ideas somehow as well.

What interests me, however, is that in 1999 Lego came out with its first license with Lucasfilms and Star Wars.

I wonder now if Lego nixed pirates to make room for another brand and let that take the forefront? These may be the new opportunities they said they were looking to explore.
If I had to guess though it is because I think the line began to lose popularity.
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#5 brickmack

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Posted 23 March 2012 - 01:21 AM

View PostCpt. Dan, on 23 March 2012 - 01:05 AM, said:

I wonder now if Lego nixed pirates to make room for another brand and let that take the forefront? These may be the new opportunities they said they were looking to explore.
This seems like the most likely option to me, other than perhaps fading popularity. If TLG was hoping for SW to be successful, getting rid of one of their most popular themes would free up customers to spend their money on SW. It would have been a bit of a gamble, but Star Wars is pretty popular so TLG probably guessed they would make more money by doing all they can to help LEGO SW succeed, even if it meant dropping a few themes.

#6 Captain Fortune

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Posted 23 March 2012 - 02:04 PM

View Postbrickmack, on 23 March 2012 - 01:21 AM, said:

This seems like the most likely option to me, other than perhaps fading popularity. If TLG was hoping for SW to be successful, getting rid of one of their most popular themes would free up customers to spend their money on SW. It would have been a bit of a gamble, but Star Wars is pretty popular so TLG probably guessed they would make more money by doing all they can to help LEGO SW succeed, even if it meant dropping a few themes.

Thats a very good point. If you are right -and I think so- it seems that Lego Pirates, in TLG's opinion, was some kind of a barrier, wich was avoiding other upcoming themes like Star Wars to succeed, so they decided to remove it.

That's a shame, really.

#7 Sebeus I

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Posted 23 March 2012 - 03:27 PM

A question I want answered as well, I was born just a few years to late  :pir_laugh2:
I had to get most of my piratesets via secondhands sellers.
I can't think of a decent reason why it was stopped.
Maybe it was an economic thing (lots of new, special parts were included which implies new expensive molds, serious investments) but as it was a super pupular theme I doubt this was the case.

#8 Duck

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Posted 23 March 2012 - 04:39 PM

View Postbrickmack, on 23 March 2012 - 01:21 AM, said:

This seems like the most likely option to me, other than perhaps fading popularity. If TLG was hoping for SW to be successful, getting rid of one of their most popular themes would free up customers to spend their money on SW. It would have been a bit of a gamble, but Star Wars is pretty popular so TLG probably guessed they would make more money by doing all they can to help LEGO SW succeed, even if it meant dropping a few themes.

It does seem a logical explanation... although its not like axing Space Police to make way for Star Wars, Castle to make way for Lord of the Rings, or Pirates to make way for Pirates of the Caribbean. The two are so different that it seems odd that Pirates would be seen as a threat to Star Wars - especially considering how insanely popular Star Wars is.

Surely, other than having to pay off the license fee for Star Wars, surely it wouldnt matter profit wise if a kid chose to buy a £40 Pirate set instead of a £40 Star Wars set?

As I say, I agree that its the most likely! It still seems an odd tactic to me however.

#9 Cpt. Dan

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Posted 28 March 2012 - 03:15 AM

If they did drop the line to make room for SW in buyers wallets, that was a serious roll of the dice although it did pay off.

I think in the sales rooms there were talks of nixing it because I think towards the end the line really lacked the feel of the earlier sets. I'm not much a fan of the sets from 1996 and beyond. Pretty much anything past the Islanders. Rock Island Refuge and El Dorado Fortress were some of the most awesome sets Lego came out with for Pirates and I don't know if anything competed.


Also, one of the last sets "Pirates Perilous Pitfall" almost felt like a goodbye. The title alone says it all in my honest opinion.
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#10 Thee Pirate

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Posted 28 March 2012 - 08:38 AM

I think those are all excellent ideas. I also think there's more to the Pirates line not selling well towards the end of the first run than just poor set design, although that is an important factor for us, as AFOLs, it's less of an issue with a little kid who wants a "pirate ship".

If you look at Hollywood, in the '80's and early '90's, there was a lot of Pirate blockbusters. We had The Goonies in 1985, multiple retellings of Treasure Island across television film, The Princess Bride in 1987, a Peter Pan cartoon with Tim Curry (who you probably know as Dr. Frank N. Furter), Hook in 1991, but then Renny Harlin made Cutthroat Island in 1995 and it tanked. It cost $100m to make, it made $10m, the production company behind it went bankrupt, and it ended up holding the Guinness World Record for biggest box office flop ever.

1996 saw the release of Muppet Treasure Island, and there was nothing worth noting until 2003, when Gore Verbinski directed Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. It grossed $650m in the box office, sold $250m in DVD's the first year it was released, and Megabloks got the licensing rights for it. (I personally, saw PotC:tCofBP 3 times in the theatre :-p)

Then they kept on making PotC movies, and Star Wars for that matter, so Megabloks and Lego both sold a lot of toys. As soon as it looked like the Pirates craze was over for PotC, Lego released the brand new Pirates II.

Aside from having a very limited number of sets, they seemed to do pretty good. I searched high and low and wasn't even able to get Brickbeard's Bounty until about 3 months after the release.

As soon as Lego was in a position to sign a contract with Disney (which was probably influenced, in part, by the fact they already had the Star Wars license) they went for it.

In 2003, nobody knew PotC was going to be a blockbuster until a couple days into it's release. It took off, and I'm sure that if Lego had seen that happening they would've snatched up the licensing rights to it the first time around.

In conclusion: the rise and fall of Lego Pirates is directly proportional to how well Hollywood made pirate movies.

A couple side notes: I actually enjoyed Cutthroat Island, it has an awesome musical score, some pretty sweet swashbuckling, and some great action scenes. I loaned my DVD out awhile back and never got it back. I don't even remember who I loaned it to :-/
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#11 Voodoo Hand

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Posted 28 March 2012 - 10:46 AM

View PostMister Phes, on 22 March 2012 - 07:13 AM, said:

According to the LEGO Group's cusomter service it was because they wanted to explore other themes...

But there must be more to it than that...

I been hearing that LEGO thought there were to few sales for the Pirate theme.
But also because LEGO California took over, who liked more the US related themes.
Exploring other themes was nothing more then a excuse in general to say 'we, LEGO California, don't like the theme so we closing it down'.
The current theme will dissapear again and unknown when it will be back.
Pirates of the Carabian isn't the regular theme.
Likely the next will be Pirates vs. Bluecoats though.
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#12 Zeya

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Posted 30 March 2012 - 12:42 AM

View PostVoodoo Hand, on 28 March 2012 - 10:46 AM, said:

I been hearing that LEGO thought there were to few sales for the Pirate theme.
But also because LEGO California took over, who liked more the US related themes.
Exploring other themes was nothing more then a excuse in general to say 'we, LEGO California, don't like the theme so we closing it down'.
The current theme will dissapear again and unknown when it will be back.
Pirates of the Carabian isn't the regular theme.
Likely the next will be Pirates vs. Bluecoats though.

I'm confused. What do you mean by "LEGO California took over"? The Lego Group is based out of Billund, Denmark, which is where all the product design happens (for core sets anyway). There is a Legoland park in southern California, but that's just a park, and they aren't the ones calling any shots about retail products, I'm pretty sure.

#13 Big Cam

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Posted 30 March 2012 - 01:31 AM

View PostVoodoo Hand, on 28 March 2012 - 10:46 AM, said:

I been hearing that LEGO thought there were to few sales for the Pirate theme.
But also because LEGO California took over, who liked more the US related themes.
Exploring other themes was nothing more then a excuse in general to say 'we, LEGO California, don't like the theme so we closing it down'.
The current theme will dissapear again and unknown when it will be back.
Pirates of the Carabian isn't the regular theme.
Likely the next will be Pirates vs. Bluecoats though.
Please use proper English when typing up replies, it makes your responses difficult to read when you leave out key words.

Also I must agree LEGO California isn't a company that makes decisions, it's a theme park.

When you say you've been hearing, I'd like to know who you heard it from since it was canceled almost 15 years ago.

#14 Mister Phes

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Posted 02 April 2012 - 05:16 PM

View PostCpt. Dan, on 23 March 2012 - 01:05 AM, said:

It had to be tough to not recycle ideas somehow as well.  
As AFOLs have proved there are thousands of used ideas for future LEGO Pirate sets.

View PostCpt. Dan, on 23 March 2012 - 01:05 AM, said:

The sets from the early 90's were by far the best with the line waning out in 96 97 98.
There were no Pirate themed sets released in 1998, and in 1997 new releases were only available in Northern America, most other regions missed out on sets like Pirates Perilous Pitfall and the Cross Bone Clipper.


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#15 Faefrost

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Posted 12 April 2012 - 04:38 PM

It was probably a combination of several factors that others touched on here.

While Pirates was Legos best selling theme by 1999 it was probably trending down a bit. There was less interest following some Hollywood flops, etc.

Lego was getting the SW license and needed to go full bore at that. This means that they needed to direct their experienced production staff and manufacturing resources at SW. A companies capacity is not infinite. Sometimes a project must be cut to free up people for something else. you only have so much run time on the injection molders, etc.

Finally retail shelf space is finite. Lego long ago learned the lesson of having too much self competing product out at once. They needed to make a hole in the shelves to fit SW. Pirates, because of all of the above had the misfortune to be that hole. It was a business and resource planning decision. And by all accounting the right one. By shifting their A class resources to SW they probably saved the company long term, and grew it such thst the Pirates themes could eventually come back.
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#16 Captain Fortune

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Posted 18 June 2014 - 11:48 AM

View PostFaefrost, on 12 April 2012 - 04:38 PM, said:

It was probably a combination of several factors that others touched on here.

While Pirates was Legos best selling theme by 1999 it was probably trending down a bit. There was less interest following some Hollywood flops, etc.

Lego was getting the SW license and needed to go full bore at that. This means that they needed to direct their experienced production staff and manufacturing resources at SW. A companies capacity is not infinite. Sometimes a project must be cut to free up people for something else. you only have so much run time on the injection molders, etc.

Finally retail shelf space is finite. Lego long ago learned the lesson of having too much self competing product out at once. They needed to make a hole in the shelves to fit SW. Pirates, because of all of the above had the misfortune to be that hole. It was a business and resource planning decision. And by all accounting the right one. By shifting their A class resources to SW they probably saved the company long term, and grew it such thst the Pirates themes could eventually come back.

Absolutely agree.

Edited by Captain Fortune, 18 June 2014 - 11:50 AM.


#17 Random Guy

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Posted 18 June 2014 - 11:26 PM

I only wish they'd done more with the Armada. All they ever had was a ship and a tiny little dock. There should have at least been a good-sized harbor/fort for them in the 1996/1997 run.

#18 Ultimo

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Posted 19 June 2014 - 08:46 AM

I agree, as a minifigs and a fraction, I always liked the Armada better than Bluecoats and Redcoats, it was such a pity they were given so little space.
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#19 VintageLegoEra

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Posted 20 June 2014 - 12:53 PM

Can we due this to lack of true Lego pirate designers/creators?!

#20 Captain Cam

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Posted 09 July 2014 - 08:19 PM

I suppose if the only theme lego had was for pirates they would lose money not exploring other themes like suggested earlier.


#21 Ardelon

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Posted 13 July 2014 - 01:18 AM

An equally interesting question is not just the causes, but the consequences of the end of the classic Pirates line.
Just like the Church of the Flying Spaghetti monster managed to prove a causal relationship between a drop in the number of pirates and a rise in global temperatures, I suggest a similar phenomenon can be identified in LEGO - I posit that the financial troubles of TLG in the early 2000s were caused by the sudden disappearance of LEGO Pirates a few years earlier. Luckily, TLG managed to turn its fortunes around by the end of the decade, which - suprise, surprise - was when the 2009 Pirates appeared, followed by PotC. We now see that the success of TLG hinges on LEGO Pirates being available. The narrow-minded might object that TLG was well out of the storm before the new Pirate lines appeared, but that just demonstrates the reality-warping powers of the FSM.

The answers are in the scriptures, folks!

#22 Legoking

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Posted 17 July 2014 - 06:51 PM

I believe this might be another explanation that will answer your question Captain Fortune. In the 1990's and early 2000's, TLC was not doing that well and recording losses of significant amounts. Check out and read this short article.
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